Abstract: Metaphors and metonymies are especially employed in poetry because poems are intended to communicate complex images and feelings to the readers and metaphors and metonymies often state the comparisons and associations most emotively. This paper examines the English translations of classical Chinese poetry by important British and American translators in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century and discovers that the translators have made the eight types of alterations in their translated works: using a metaphor in the target language that has a similar meaning to replace the one in the source poem, misinterpret the metaphoric meaning of a vehicle, translate the vehicle of a metaphor into a real thing in the poem, or adding a metaphor in the translation that is absent in the original, leave out the vehicle in the original poem but keep the tenor, etc. These alterations have reduced the integrity and effect of the poems, though the translators have contributed greatly to introducing the themes and forms of Chinese poetry to the outside world.
Keywords: metaphor; tenor; vehicle; image
Metaphors and metonymies are used in all types of literature as well as in everyday life, but not often to the degree they are used in poetry because poems are intended to communicate complex images and feelings to the readers and metaphors and metonymies often state the comparisons and associations most emotively.The use of metaphors and metonymies has a long history in classical Chinese poetry. Poets of classical Chinese poetry usually use plants, birds, beasts, fish, insects, farm animals, the sun, the moon, stars, and household stuff like fans, curtains, candles, patterns on quilts, etc as vehicles for tenors and images for conveying the message of the poem. In addition，the natural phenomenon or the behavior of birds or animals has something in common with the event being discussed, or is related to the emotion of the poet or the subject-matter.
The functions of metaphors in Chinese poetry and in Western poetry are the same, though the vehicles and tenors in them may be different thanks to the different climates, natural environments, lifestyles and cultures of the peoples. A nation has its collective images; an age has its collective images; a poet has his or her unique group of images; and a poem has its group of images. The images of a poem usually center on a setting or a scene. All the images in a poem work together to build up a mood and to convey a message. An alien image in the translated work may violate the agreement and unity of the work.
This paper examines the English translations of classical Chinese poetry by important British and American translators in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century and discovers that the translators have occasionally or quite often made the following types of alterations in their translated works: deleting a metaphor in the original poem, omitting the vehicle, using a metaphor in the target language that has a similar meaning to replace the one in the source poem, or adding a metaphor in the translation that is absent in the original, misinterpret the metaphoric meaning of a vehicle, translate the vehicle of a metaphor into a real thing in the poem, etc. These alterations havereduced the integrity and effect of the poems,though the translators have contributed greatly to introducing the themes and forms of Chinese poetry to the outside world.
The Three Figures of Speech in Classical Chinese poetry
A metaphor expresses the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. The unfamiliar is the tenor, and the familiar is the vehicle. The vehicle and tenor of a metaphor are important images of a poem. In other words, a metaphor makes an implicit, implied or hiddencomparisonbetween two things or objects that are poles apart from each other but have some characteristics common between them. Using appropriate metaphors appeal directly to the senses of listeners or readers, sharpening their imaginations to comprehend what is being communicated to them. Moreover, it gives a life-like quality to the characters of the fiction or poetry. Metaphors are also ways of thinking, offering listeners and readers fresh ways of examining ideas and viewing the world. In other words, metaphor is a distinctive feature of poetic language because it conveys the experience of the world afresh and provides a kind of defamiliarisation in the way we perceive the world.
Metonymy is afigure of speechin which a thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated inmeaning with that thing or concept.Both metonymy andmetaphorinvolve the substitution of one term for another.In metaphor, this substitution is based on some specificanalogybetween two things, whereas in metonymy the substitution is based on some understood association orcontiguity.In addition to its use in everyday speech, metonymy is a figure of speech inpoetryand in muchrhetoric.
Chinese poets of more than two thousand years ago have perceived the association between natural phenomena and human life, or the comparison between things in general. Shi Jing（《诗经》）, translated variously as theClassic of Poetry, theBook of Songs,Book of Odes, is the oldest existing collection ofChinese poetry, comprising 305 works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC. In this anthology of poems, with which Chinese literature begins, three important figures of speech are frequently employed, namely fu（赋）, bi（比）and xing（兴）. The poetic principle organizing the poem is often one of contrast. Often Chinese poetry will juxtapose a natural scene with a social or personal situation. The reader of the poem sees the similarity in the natural description and the human condition, and comes to a new awareness of each by this contrast. In Chinese, this idea is embodied in the termsfu,bi, andxing.
Furefers to a straightforward narrative with a beginning, middle, and conclusion. Bi, literally “against,” implies a comparison or contrast, placing two things side by side. When one takes two differentfu, and places them together, the two create abi. This results inxing, a mental stimulation or “lightning” that pervades the mind of the reader, bringing new insight or awareness into the nature of the individualfuthat compose the poem.
Confucius stated that thisxingis the purpose of poetry, and that the point of a poem was to make the mind contemplate its subject deeply. In other words, bi isanother situation referred to in a round-about way through the poetic image (a kind of metaphor), andxingthe affection and realization that is stirred when the first sheds light on the second. As Zhu Xi（朱熹, a renowned Song Dynasty poet and philosopher）put it, “xing is to say something first so as to lead to what the poet is going to sing”（“先言他物以引起所咏之辞也”）(1980). It is a heuristic mode of expression which stresses inspirational and associational effect. Bi and xing differ in form but are the same in essence. Kong Yingda（孔颖达, a descendant of Confucius and a Tang Dynasty scholar）said that “a xing and a bi having different names but in reality mean the same thing” as both “drawing forth a comparison and linking the corresponding category”(“引譬连类”)(1999).
From Shi Jing down to Han Dynasty and Tang Dynasty poetry, the three figures of speech have undergone some transformations but they have been always important in composing poems. Bi and xing involve reasoning by analogy and approximate the Western figure of speech metaphor. Of course, due to different literary traditions, metaphors are not used in classical Chinese poetry as intensely as in the Western poetry.
Agreement and Unity of Images in a Poem
The themes of classical Chinese poems range from frustrated ambition, sadness of saying goodbye to a friend, home-yearning, loneliness of a wanderer, frustrated love, indignation toward injustice, love-sickness, praise of female beauty and masculine strength, thinking of a loved one in a far-away place, criticism of extravagant life of the rich, etc. Some poets may be straight-forward in expressing their feelings and sentiments. Yet more celebrated poets adopt various means in conveying their longings and emotions. The devices they employ include irony, puns, metonymy, metaphors, simile, satire and so on. As far as the metaphor is concerned, the vehicles poets of classical Chinese poetry commonly use include plants, birds, beasts, fish, insects, farm animals, the sun, the moon, stars, rain, drought, thunder, lightening, and household stuff like fans, curtains, incense burner,stationery, perfume sachet, candles, patterns on quilts or skirts, etc. The natural phenomenon or the behavior of birds or animals is compared to the event being discussed, or serves as an introduction to the emotion of the poet or the subject-matter.
The images of a poem usually revolve around a setting or a scene. All the images in a poem work together to build up a mood and to convey a message. An alien image in the translated work may violate the agreement and unity of the images in the original work. Alterations of images will damage the integrity of the poem to some extent. As metaphors are comprised of images, either deleting metaphors in the original poem or replacing a metaphor in the source poem with one in the target language will result in discord among the images of the poem and might cause confusion in the reader about the time and location of the story. In view of this, we will look into the various types of intentional or unintentional mistakes in the English translations of classical Chinese poetry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Eight Types of Alterations in Translating Chinese Poetic Metaphors and Metonymies into English
After analyzing British and American translators’ translations of classical Chinese poetry in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, we find that the translators make the following six types of alterations in their translations.
(1) Replace a metaphor in the source poem by one in the target culture. “The Deserted Wife”(《诗经·卫风·氓》), a poem in Book of Odes, employs the devices of fu and bi. The poem is about a deserted wife telling her story about how she eloped with a young man and how after three years of hard life staying with him she was dumped. In her narrative, she uses the metaphor of a dove loving to eat mulberry and getting drunk（“鸠喜食桑葚，醉而伤其性”）to warn young women not to fall in love with men easily because women will often be blinded by men’s love and do silly things, but that kind of love usually has an unhappy ending.
The metaphor of a dove eating mulberry presents a vivid picture and perfectly conveys the deserted wife’s message. Herbert Allen Giles (翟理斯, 1845-1935, an important British Sinologist and translator, who published Gems of Chinese Literature: Verse《中诗英韵》）translates “于嗟鸠兮，无食桑葚”（literally “Ah little dove, please don’t eat the mulberry”）into “O tender dove, beware the fruit that tempts thy eyes”, which reminds us of the story of Eve who was tempted by “the fruit that tempts thy eyes”. Due to the image’s connection with the text of Bible, the background of the story is somewhat shifted from an ancient Chinese context to a Christian one. This is called domestication of the original metaphor.
The very first poem in Shi Jing, or Book of Odes, “Song of Welcome to the Bride of King Wan”（《关雎》） is a celebration of the wedding of King Wan（文王）or a princely gentleman（君子）. Osprey is a kind of bird that is devoted and faithful to its spouse and a couple will stay together all their lives. William Jennings（坚宁士，a British poet and translator who published The Shi King: The Old “poetry Classic” of the Chinese: A Close Metrical Translation in 1891, London: George Routledge and Sons) translated jujiu (雎鸠) as “waterfowl”（水鸟，水禽）. Below is his translation of the first stanza of “Song of Welcome to the Bride of King Wan”.
关关雎鸠 Waterfowl their mates are calling
在河之洲 On the islets in the stream.
窈窕淑女 Chaste and modest maid! Fit partner
君子好逑 For our lord (thyself we deem).
This stanza is famous for its use of the device of xing. That is to say, the image of ospreys wooing each other on the islets in the stream serves as a stimulus and inspiration to the celebration of King Wan marrying a beautiful and virtuous lady. Generations of Chinese critics have noted that jujiu (osprey) is a loyal bird, who carefully picks his/her spouse and stays with her/him all his/her life. So the image of the bird has something in common with the prince and the lady being celebrated in the poem. However, Jennings uses a more general word “waterfowl” to replace a particular kind of waterfowl “osprey”, and as a result removes the metaphoric implications of the bird that is important to the message of the poem.
(2) Misinterpret the metaphoric meaning of a vehicle. Arthur Waley (阿瑟·韦利，1889-1966, British sinologist and translator) is famous for the fidelity of his translations of Chinese poetry. In his 1937 translation of Book of Odes, however, he misinterprets the metaphoric meanings of a few vehicles. For example, “The Pepper Plant”（《诗经·唐风·椒聊》） is a poem that praises the prosperity of a duke’s land and his blessing of having many capable sons and grandsons.
The pepper-plant, for its abundant seeds, is a well-known metaphor in Chinese culture for the ability of reproduction, which is seen as a blessing. There are quite many poems in Shi Jing whose theme is singing praise of the reproductivity of the hero or heroine. For instance, “Locusts”（《诗经·周南·螽斯》）is a poem in which the poet uses the image of locusts, a kind of insect that reproduces very fast, to wish the empress having many sons and grandsons. Below is Waley’s translation of the poem “The Pepper Plant”.
椒聊之实 The seeds of the pepper-plant
蕃衍盈升 Overflowed my pint-measure.
彼其之子 That man of mine,，
硕大无朋 None so broad and tall!
椒聊且 Oh, the pepper-plant,，
远条且 How wide its branches spread!
椒聊之实 The seeds of the pepper-plant
蕃衍盈掬 Overflowed my hands as well.
彼其之子 That man of mine，
硕大且笃 Big, tall and strong!
椒聊且 Oh, the pepper-plant,
远条且 How wide its branches spread!
Waley does well in preserving the images of “the seeds of the pepper-plant” and “the pepper-plant” itself and depicting the luxuriance and vitality of the plant. However, Waley misunderstands the poem as a love poem, translating “That man” (“彼其之子”) as “That man of mine”，and putting emphasis on the masculinity and hotness of the man being celebrated. Waley gives the following explanation of the metaphoric meaning of the plant: “Pepper-plant: The fine stature of the lover is compared to the luxuriance of the pepper-plant, which at the same time symbolizes the heat of his passion” (Waley, 1937). We can see that Waley mistakes this poem for a love poem. The duke is described as “That man of mine”, as if he is the “lover” of the speaker.
In fact, the poet compares the multi seeds of the pepper-plant to the duke’s having many capable sons and grandsons, hinting that he will replace King of Jin (晋昭公), who was weak and incapable in governing his kingdom. It is a political poem instead of a love poem. Because Waley gives a wrong interpretation of metaphoric meaning of the pepper-plant, emphasizing its “fine stature” and “the heat of his passion”, the theme of the poem is changed.
(3) Adding metaphors that do not exist in the original poem. In his translation of “the Deserted Wife”(《氓》), L. Cranmer-Byng, (克莱默-宾，1872-1945 , a British poet and translator), who published his translation of Book of Odes in 1896，adds a few metaphors that are absent in the original poem. Below is his translation of one stanza of the poem.
自我徂尔 Three sombre years ago
三岁食贫 I fled with you, and lo,
淇水汤汤 The floods of K’e
渐车帷裳 Now silently Creep to the curtains of my little car.
女也不爽 Through cloud and gloom I was your constant star;
士贰其行 Now you have gone from sight,
士也罔极 And love’s white star roams aimless
二三其德 through the night.
Cranmer-Byng translated “女也不爽”(literally “I didn’t do anything wrong”) as “Through cloud and gloom I was your constant star”, adding an English metaphor and three new images – cloud, gloom, and constant star. He translates “士也罔极，二三其德”（literally “the man is shameless and break his promise”）as “And love’s white star roams aimless through the night”，adding another English metaphor and three alien images — “love’s white star”、“roam”和“night”.
The addition of English metaphors and new images in the translated poem changes the narrative style of the original poem to some extent. The narrator of the poem — the deserted wife — adopts a plain and controlled way of narration, as if telling her story to a neighbor or a friend. The translator’s adding of English metaphors violates the plain narrative style of the poem. Moreover, the images of the original poem include the Qi River, the ruined wall, dove, mulberry, and so on, but the added metaphors and images such as “lucky star”, “white star”, “constant star” are not in agreement with the image group in the original poem.
This practice is not uncommon in the translations of classic Chinese poetry. As is well known, Giles also adds an English metaphor in his translation of “Blue, Blue Grass”(《青青河畔草》), a poem from Nineteen Old Poems（《古诗十九首》）. This is Giles’ translation of the last two lines of the poem:
浪子行不归，Ah, if he does not mind his own,
空床独难守。He’ll find some day the bird has flown.
Giles translated “空床独难守” (literally “an empty bed is hard to keep”) as “the bird has flown”. “Empty bed” or “keeping the empty bed” is a frequently used image in classical Chinese poems, indicating a widow’s or a left-behind wife’s loneliness and sorrow. Giles leaves out this important Chinese poetic image and uses an English metaphor. Unfortunately, this English metaphor is alien to Chinese culture and the added images are not in concert with the ones in the original poem focusing on the garden, the woman’s chamber and her appearance. The image of a bird having flown does not fit in the image group of the poem.
(4) Translate the vehicle of a metaphor into a real thing in the poem. The following is Ezra Pound’s（庞德，American poet and translator) translation of Li Bai’s （李白）Poem “Taking Leave of a Friend”（《送友人》）.
青山横北郭，Blue mountains to the north of the walls,
白水绕东城。White riverwinding about them.
此地一为别，Here we must make separation,
孤蓬万里征。And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.
浮云游子意，Mind like a floating wide cloud,
落日故人情。Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances.
挥手自兹去，Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance,
萧萧班马鸣。Our horses neigh to each other as we are departing.
The poem depicts a farewell scene in which the setting is elaborately depicted: blue mountains, the north wall of the city, clear water in the river, the floating cloud, the setting sun, the neighing horse, waving hands, and an old friend of the poet saying goodbye. In the poem there is a metaphor: “此地一为别，孤蓬万里征” literally meaning that “from this scenic spot you are about to depart,/Like dead broken grass traveling thousands miles afar”.“孤蓬” (Dead broken grass) is the vehicle, the tenor is the poet’s friend. Ezra Pound translates the line as “you will go out through a thousand miles of dead grass”. He fails to see that “dead, broken grass” is a metaphor and translates it as a real thing in the scene. In fact, it is not that the poet’s friend will “go out through a thousand miles of dead grass”, but that he will float aimlessly in life like dead, broken grass.
“蓬草”(dead, broken grass) is a frequently used metaphor in classical Chinese poems and always has the meaning that the person under discussion is floating aimlessly in life like dead, broken grass. Amy Lowell (1874-1925, an American woman poet and translator) translates “孤蓬万里征” as “The lonely water-plants go ten thousand li”. Like Pound, she fails to see the metaphor and translates it as a real thing in the poem scene. Fletcher (W. J. B. Fletcher, 1879-?, a British poet and translator) translates “孤蓬万里征” as “Your lone sail struggling up the current goes”. He interprets “the broken grass”(“孤蓬”) as “Your lone sail”, which is a mistake.
There are translators who have got it right. For example, Shigeyoshi Obata (1888-1971) sees that it is a metaphor, translating it as “You go ten thousand miles, drifting away /Like an unrooted water-grass”. And Witter Bynner (1881-1968) translates it as “Here you must leave me and drift away /Like a loosened water-plant hundreds of miles”. The minor mistake Obata and Bynner make is that they misunderstand the “dead, broken grass” as “water plant”. Yet the metaphor is mostly kept.
（5）Change vehicles in frozen/established Chinese metaphors. Another type of metaphor in classical Chinese poetry is the so-called frozen or established metaphors, which are metaphors that have been used for hundreds of years and by a great many poets and consequently they have become idioms. For example, in Li Bai’s (李白) poem “Endless Yearning”(《长相思》), there is a line that says “昔日横波目，今日流泪泉”, literally meaning “you eyes were like horizontal waves in those days, but now they are fountains of tears”. The idea is that your eyes that were clear and speaking in the past are full of tears now. “横波目” is a frozen metaphor that compares a pair of beautiful eyes to the water in the pond blown by the wind in the fall.
Bynner translates this metaphor as “my eyes that once were sparkling”，typical English phrase to describe a pair of beautiful eyes. Fletcher translates the metaphor as “The eyes once liquid waves exchanged /Today stream tears for you”. Lowell translates it as “In the old days, my eyes were like horizontal waves”. Fletcher and Lowell keep the vehicle of the tenor in the original poem. However, as many frozen metaphors are uniquely Chinese, a literal translation of the vehicle may sound weird in the target language and may not be well-received by the target audience. Fletcher and Lowell’s keeping the unique Chinese metaphor is helpful in introducing Chinese frozen metaphors into the target culture, but due to their foreignness in the target language, their literal translations may reduce the poetic quality of the translated poem as an independent piece of work. In this case, therefore, perhaps using a metaphor that is well-received in the target language is a better choice.
(6) Leave out the vehicle in the original poem but keep the tenor. In his translation of a well-known Tang poem “The Song of the Wandering Son” (《游子吟》) by Meng Jiao (孟郊）, Fletcher leaves out the two vehicles of “inch-long grass”(“寸草”) and “the spring sunlight” (“三春晖”) but keeps the tenors, translating the line “谁言寸草心，报得三春晖” as “Such life-long mother’s love how may /the simple little heart repay?” On the other hand, Bynner and Lowell have kept the vehicles of this metaphor. Bynner translates the line as “But how much love has the inch-long grass /for three spring months of the light of sun?” Lowell translates it as “The heart — the inch-long grass — /Who will contend that either can repay /The gentle brightness of the Third Month of Spring”. In this case, as the metaphor in the original poem – the inch-long grass cannot repay the love of the spring sunlight – can be easily understood by the target audience, it is better to keep the metaphor.
(7) Fail to see a metonymy and translate the substitute as a real thing in the poem scene. In classical Chinese poetry, especially in poems depicting women’s life and their thinking of their husbands or lovers who are not around, the furnishings and stuff used daily like fans, mirrors, candles, etc. are often mentioned. And it is not uncommon that things associated with the soft furnishings are used as substitutes. For example, Li Shangyin（李商隐, a famous Tang Dynasty poet）wrote many love poems in which images of the stuff in a woman’s chamber are abundant.
There is a metonymy in his poem “No Title”（《无题四首》其一“来是空言去绝踪”）and that is in the line “蜡照半笼金翡翠”, meaning “The light of the candle reflects on /gives light to half of the quilt embroidered with gold kingfisher”.
Soame Jenyns (a British politician, poet and translator，who published Selections from the Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty in 1940) fails to see that metonymy, not knowing “the gold kingfisher”(“金翡翠”) is the metonym of the quilt and translating the line as “On the top of the cage the light of the wax lanterns reflects the gold kingfisher feathers”, which is wrong. There is also a metonymy in the following line “麝熏微度绣芙蓉”. Similarly, “the embroidered hibiscus”( “绣芙蓉”) is the metonym of the curtains with the embroidered hibiscus. Fortunately, Jenyns sees this metonymy and translates this line as “The musk perfume floats faintly through the embroidered hibiscus (curtains)”, which is right.
(8) Use the substituted in the place of the substitute. At times, the translator understands the metonymy but may choose to use the substituted in the place of the substitute in the original poem. For example, Kenneth Rexroth ( 1905-1982, an American poet and translator) knows that “the masts and oars” (“樯橹”) in the line “The masts and oars vanished like smoke and dust”（ “樯橹灰飞烟灭”）of the poem “The Red Cliff” by the Song Dynasty poet Su Shi (苏轼) is metonym of Ts’ao Ts’ao (曹操) navy. But he uses “the navy of Ts’ao Ts’ao” instead of “the masts and oars”. That is, he uses the substituted to replace the substitute. The line “谈笑间，樯橹灰飞烟灭” is translated as “Smiling and chatting as he /Burned the navy of Ts’ao Ts’ao.” Of course, the meaning is the same.
In Giles’s translation of “To A Man”（《诗经·卫风·氓》）, he replaces the name of the man’s village “Fu Guan”(“复关”) , which is the metonym for the man, with “my darling boy”. Fu Guan is the place where the woman speaker’s beloved lives in, and the woman in the poem will often go to the ruined wall and watch whether her beloved is coming. If he is, she is happy; if he’s not, she weeps. In the following lines, the poet uses Fu Guan three times to depict the woman’s love and devotion for the man. The images of the wall and of the man’s village create a vivid picture of the scene.
The repetition of the name of the man’s village helps create a woman deeply in love with the unworthy man. Giles replaces Fu Guan with “you” and “my darling boy”. That is, he uses the substituted “my darling boy” in the place of the substitute “Fu Guan”, reducing the effect of repetition in the original poem and alters the constrained, controlled tone of the original poem. Below is Giles’ translation of one stanza of the poem.
乘彼垝垣，以望复关。 And then I used to watch and wait
To see you passing through the gate;
不见复关，泣涕涟涟。 And sometimes, when I watched in vain,
My tears would flow like falling rain;
既见复关，载笑载言。 But when I saw my darling boy,
I laughed and cried aloud for joy.
As we can see, in Giles’ translation, the woman narrator is overflowing with her happiness and sorrow. However, the original poem exhibits a controlled and plain narrative style. As Confucius stated, all forms of arts, as well as people, should control their emotions and let them out in a controlled, gentle way. One should experience and express his or her “grief without being hurtfully excessive” (“哀而不傷”) . This is one of the principles classical Chinese works have been following. The translator’s alteration of metonymies results in a change of this narrative style.
As images are the most important elements of poems and metaphors and metonymies consist of inspiring and culture-loaded images, translators must be very careful when making alterations on them. What we have examined in this paper are Chinese-English translations in late nineteenth and early twentieth century. As translators get a more profound understanding of classical Chinese poetry and as translation studies develop, serious translators have gradually reached the professional consensus that images in the original poems are not to be replaced or left out. On the other hand, as different styles of translations are needed to serve different groups of readers and for different purposes, translators have a certain amount of liberty to decide whether they should keep the original metaphor or not. For instance, the interpreter can be more flexible in oral interpretation. But for serious translation, the images in a poem should center on the poem scene and no alien image should be there to damage the integrity and effectiveness of the original poem.
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